Across Canada, there’s a pattern. Provinces that have a large number of cannabis stores are doing better than online stores. Ontario, which has yet to open a store, registers Canada’s second lowest per capita consumption, right before B.C.
“Clearly the system is not working from an online perspective in Ontario,” says Deepak Anand, CEO of Materia Ventures, that supplies and distributes cannabis. Anand adds “Alberta, on the other hand, is doing quite well.”
The trend is much more visible in Quebec. The province started with a dozen legal cannabis store with each one potentially serving 700,000 people. Even then, Quebecers chose to line up in the cold travelling long distances to do so to get their hands on legal weed as opposed to buying it online without leaving the comfort of their homes. 80% of the province’s cannabis revenues come from bricks-and-mortar retail stores. That says it all!
In Nova Scotia, the trend is not much different. 94% of sales here and 95% in New Brunswick are from retail stores. It’s clear that “Canadians want the touch-and-feel aspect, wanting to go into a store and talk to somebody and sort of get their products, versus going online and buying it through an online channel,” say experts to the Global News.
There are primarily three main reasons for this, they say. Michael Armstrong from Brock University explains “It’s a sensory product. If they’re going to a store, they can see the samples, they can sniff them in most provinces, and that can be part of the purchasing experience. It’s like buying groceries — you like to look at the produce and touch it. You get some information that way that you can’t get online.”
Anand says that experienced buyers and inexperienced buyers both have antithetical reasons to visit stores. Experienced ones know what they are looking for so they like to see, touch and sniff their way to know. Inexperienced ones have no clue so they wish to consult specialists and learn more.
“It’s a product that the average consumer hasn’t been using for a long time,” Anand elaborates. “This is something new. They may have consumed it when they were in high school, but that was many years ago. On the other side, you have connoisseurs of the product that want to understand, just like you would want to go to a wine store and want to know a little bit more about your wine.”
Another issue is privacy. Online shopping offers convenience but no privacy. There’s a trail of data in unexpected places that is easy to track and report. With countries like the U.S.A. banning cannabis on a federal travel and cannabis users facing lifetime bans to visit the country, buying online becomes avoidable for customers who have store buying choice.
“Buying online means you have to set up an account of some sort on the website, you have to pay with a credit card, there are two sets of electronic records that potentially could track you,” Armstrong says. Store buying is cash-friendly so nothing is tracked.
The federal privacy commissioner advised Canadians to use cash as much as possible since “Some countries may deny entry to individuals if they know they have purchased cannabis, even lawfully,” they cautioned.
However informed a website may be, nothing beats plain old human help. “Consumers are looking for information,” says Armstrong. “They go online, but they don’t really know what to buy. There are all these products, but there’s almost no promotional material that would educate them and say, ‘Okay, this is the one you want for a high, this is the one you want for a buzz,’ that kind of thing. Going into a store and talking to the sales reps is one way to get some information about what I might like if I’m looking for this kind of effect.” “People want to be able to understand, from people they can trust, how this is going to taste and feel, and how it will make them feel.”